Category Archives: Collectables

A Medal and a Brief History

I bought a small parcel of medallions from eBay earlier in the week. I really only wanted one of them, and I would have liked them to be cheaper, but the drive to collect is strong and I ended up buying them. One of the items was a white metal cross awarded for attendance by the Preston Church Day Schools Association. It’s pleasant enough, though not really something I collect. There are two notable features about it, the first being the mark on the reverse of the lower arm.

At first glance it looks like accidental damage. White metal is an alloy of lead or tin used for cheap souvenir medallions and such things and is easily damaged. However, a second look reveals that the damage seems to have been done with a tool – I suspect a small hacksaw. It’s what we call a test cut in the trade, a cut inflicted on an item to check if it is silver or not. There was no need to have done this, as it clearly isn’t silver, but some people just do it automatically. Whether this is a flaw, or whether it adds to the story is something you will have to make your own mind up about.

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The other interesting feature is that it is name on the reverse – to Edward Valliant, who sounds like a character from Bunyan.

Due to the unusual name I can tell you that Edward Valiant was born and baptised in 1894 in the Parish of All Saints in Preston, the son of Richard and May Valiant of 46, Lady St. Richard was a Railway Porter. In 1911 there were three boys and two girls in the family and Edward was a cotton weaver. He appears, with a short break, to have worked in the cotton industry for a large part of his life (being listed as a cotton taper in 1939. At this time cotton was the major employer in Preston, and in much of Lancashire. His father was dead by 1911 and the head of the family was his mother, though his brother Thomas signed the Census form.

Edward served in the Loyal North Lancaster Regiment during 1916-18 and appears to have avoided injury in that time. He married in 1920 and 54 years later his wife, Lily, died. Edward followed her a year later. His address at the time was 219, Fletcher Road, the same as his 1939 address. It’s a two bedroomed terraced house, which is still standing. Lady Street, his previous address has been demolished and although All Saints Church survives, the area around it has been redeveloped.

Preston School Attendance Medal (Obverse)

He appears to have been slightly more fortunate than his brothers – Thomas had two children, was listed as “Incapacitated” in 1939 and died in 1949 at the age of 58. Stephen, also having two children, also lost two at an early age and died in 1953 at 60.

Sadly, though it’s possible to build a framework of the lives, it’s frustrating that this is all I can do from the records. I imagine he must have been generally happy as he stayed married for 54 years and never moved away from Preston, but I have nothing to back this up.

Reflections on the Vicissitudes of Life

It can be hard work being a collector. Apart from the searching, the accumulation of knowledge and the scraping together of cash (there is never enough of it, and your spending is never sufficiently concealed from your wife), there is the feeling that the universe is heaping more trials on your head.

I just bid on five lots in auction. I got none. In two cases I sent in speculative bids so this wasn’t a surprise. In one case I found some interesting information that wasn’t in the catalogue, but so, it seems, did someone else, as they outbid me. In two cases, where the lots went for approximately four times the estimate, I was left scratching my head. I know that estimates generally have little bearing on the eventual price of the item, and had bid double estimate. But for them to go for double my bid? I am left bemused by the world and feel, as mentioned, that the Universe is having  a laugh.

I’m not altogether in favour of auctioneers.

Auctioneers used to take a percentage off the sellers as payment. About 30 years ago they also started taking a percentage off the bidders. That percentage now seems to have risen to around 25%. So, for providing premises, “expertise” (which varies, and is mainly guesswork and breezy overconfidence) and photographs on the internet, the auctioneer gets around 50% of the value of the item.

And to cap it all, when they sell something for many times the estimate, they advertise it as a success. If I estimate something to be worth £100 and it turned out to be worth £10,000, I’d be embarrassed at my lack of expertise. But every week you see auctioneers in the Antiques Trade Gazette boasting of their “success” at doing similar things.

Don’t get me wrong, I like auctioneers. They are cheery and entertaining (in the main) and life would be poorer without them, as would daytime TV. However, there are, I assume, specialists in leeches, and they presumably feel cheered and entertained when looking at a jar of blood-gorged slimy parasites.

Just saying . . .

The picture is from our last wet and depressing trip to Stoke. It mirrors my current mood.

 

The Smuggler’s Box

A few weeks ago The Owner was sorting boxes of old copper coins. This included a lot of worn out coins of George III, and he noticed that one of them seemed very light when he picked it up. It also didn’t sound right when he examined it (“examine” in tis context means “hit it with another coin then dropped it on the counter” – these are truly clapped out coins and their value is unlikely to be reduced by his treatment).

1797 Penny – George III and Britannia. It’s worn and the date has gone, but we know it’s 1797 because of the size – all the “cartwheel” coins were dated 1797.

It turned out to be a box made from a 1797 Penny. I’m not clear how they do this, but suspect it involves hollowing out two coins, rather than just splitting one. I had a look on YouTube but drifted off into how to make a knife using cheap Amazon tools. It looks fun but I think my days of dexterity may be behind me.

I just thought it was a box made from a penny, but when we checked up on eBay we found a couple of others, described as smuggler’s boxes. They clearly aren’t, for a number of reasons. One is that the penny is very worn and smuggling was probably out of date by the time this penny was worked. The other is that it’s not really a practical size for smuggling. What are you going to get in something that size? It might be a pill box (if you like your pills to taste of copper) or a patch box. I know very little about patches. Deep down I think it was probably made by an apprentice, or even an engineer with time of his hands and a lathe at his disposal. However, it’s an interesting novelty and I doubt that you could make one for £30.

Modern penny for size comparison

I’m not one to let reality get between me and a sale, so Georgian Smuggler’s Box, it became. Or possibly spy box, I said “It is tempting to think it may even have been used to transport secret messages by a spy in the Napoleonic Wars.” Note how I didn’t say it had been, or even that it was likely. And having put the idea out there, I waited . . .

It sold in auction for a reasonable sum – just over £30. The only other one on eBay at the moment is in much better condition, but at £180 it’s a lot more money. If I had the good one I’d feel I had to keep it in a cabinet. With the one we sold, you can shove it in your pocket and show people – a much better use of an object.

Can you see the join?

1797 Penny – a conundrum, and possible even a smuggler’s box.

Newark Siege Shilling 1645

 

Not sure what happened to the original post, but Julia sent me a copy of the post from her notification.

During the Civil War (1642-51) Newark was besieged three times. It was an important transport hub where two roads (The Great North Road and the Fosse Way), and the River Trent met. Whoever controlled Newark had a great deal of influence in the conduct of the war.

Though the road system has changed a bit over the years, the Great North Road still appears under that name on my satnav, though it is variously known as the A1 or A1(M) these days. It was Ermine Street in the days of the Romans, and the the Fosse Way retains its Roman name to this day, as it makes its way between Exeter and Lincoln. It’s also known as the A46 when it passes Newark. The Trent is still in use as a working waterway with barges conveying sand, gravel and oil. It’s interesting to note that our transport system hasn’t changed that much in 2,000 years.

Anyway, back to the sieges. The siege of 1643 was insignificant, and lasted from 27th to 28th February. It was, to be honest, little more than a visit and the Parliamentarian forces were completely outclassed in terms of leadership and fighting spirit.

The second was February 29th to March 21st 1644 and ended when Prince Rupert’s  relief force mounted a surprise attack and trapped the army of Sir John Meldrum. They were eventually allowed to march away, leaving their equipment behind – 3,000 muskets, 11 cannon and 2 mortars.

altNewark Siege Coin 1645

The final siege lasted from 26th November 1645 – 8th May 1646. THe Royalists were on the ropes by this time but they had spent the years building defences and Newark was one of the few places still capable of resisting. One of the Star Forts is still there – the Queen’s Sconce. In the old days, before we started being more careful of our heritage I marched up and down it re-enacting the siege. It was hard work, even without people actually trying to kill me.  The third siege featured 17,000 Parliamentarian troops, including Scots, against the town. The people, of Newark suffered cold, hunger and disease (around 1,000 dying of typhus and plague). Eventually the King surrendered to the Scots commanders at The Saracen’s Head in Southwell and the town surrendered two days later. It is still a pub, and still named The Saracen;s Head if you fancy a drink in a place with history.

The coin in the header picture is a Newark Siege Shilling. Siege coins were made for use in besieged towns so that normal life could carry on. They were made from silver, such as plates and spoons, and cut to weight to equal the weight of silver in coin of the realm (which were made of sterling silver in those days). Newark coins are dated 1645 or 1646 and are available as halfcrowns (XXX), shillings (XII), ninepences (IX) and sixpences (VI). They are almost always slightly untidy in the striking – hardly surprising when you consider they were made from flattening household silver and then cutting it into lozenges before hammering between home-made dies. Sometimes they even have remnants of decoration on them from the original donor item. They are often found pierced as loyal Royalists used to wear them as pendants in remembrance of the King.

Newark Siege Shilling 1645

Newark Siege Shilling 1645

There are other siege coins (also known as obsidional coins) from towns in the UK, though many of them have been challenged as “fantasy pieces”. Pontefract, Scarborough, Carlisle and Cork all seem to have struck coins, some of which were of far worse quality than the Newark coins.

Obsidional comes from the Latin obsidionalis, meaning “of a siege”, hence the “OBS” stamped on the Newark coin.

Newark Siege Coin 1645

During the Civil War (1642-51) Newark was besieged three times. It was an important transport hub where two roads (The Great North Road and the Fosse Way), and the River Trent met. Whoever controlled Newark had a great deal of influence in the conduct of the war.

Though the road system has changed a bit over the years, the Great North Road still appears under that name on my satnav, though it is variously known as the A1 or A1(M) these days. It was Ermine Street in the days of the Romans, and the the Fosse Way retains its Roman name to this day, as it makes its way between Exeter and Lincoln. It’s also known as the A46 when it passes Newark. The Trent is still in use as a working waterway with barges conveying sand, gravel and oil. It’s interesting to note that our transport system hasn’t changed that much in 2,000 years.

Anyway, back to the sieges. The siege of 1643 was insignificant, and lasted from 27th to 28th February. It was, to be honest, little more than a visit and the Parliamentarian forces were completely outclassed in terms of leadership and fighting spirit.

The second was February 29th to March 21st 1644 and ended when Prince Rupert’s  relief force mounted a surprise attack and trapped the army of Sir John Meldrum. They were eventually allowed to march away, leaving their equipment behind – 3,000 muskets, 11 cannon and 2 mortars.

Newark Siege Coin 1645

The final siege lasted from 26th November 1645 – 8th May 1646. THe Royalists were on the ropes by this time but they had spent the years building defences and Newark was one of the few places still capable of resisting. One of the Star Forts is still there – the Queen’s Sconce. In the old days, before we started being more careful of our heritage I marched up and down it re-enacting the siege. It was hard work, even without people actually trying to kill me.  The third siege featured17,000 Parliamentarian troops, including Scots, against the town. The people, of Newark suffered cold, hunger and disease (around 1,000 dying of typhus and plague). Eventually the King surrendered to the Scots commanders at The Saracen’s Head in Southwell and the town surrendered two days later. It is still a pub, and still named The Saracen;s Head if you fancy a drink in a place with history.

The coin in the header picture is a Newark Siege Shilling. Siege coins were made for use in besieged towns so that normal life could carry on. They were made from silver, such as plates and spoons, and cut to weight to equal the weight of silver in coin of the realm (which were made of sterling silver in those days). Newark coins are dated 1645 or 1646 and are available as halfcrowns (XXX), shillings (XII), ninepences (IX) and sixpences (VI). They are almost always slightly untidy in the striking – hardly surprising when you consider they were made from flattening household silver and then cutting it into lozenges before hammering between home-made dies. Sometimes they even have remnants of decoration on them from the original donor item. They are often found pierced as loyal Royalists used to wear them as pendants in remembrance of the King.

There are other siege coins (also known as obsidional coins) from towns in the UK, though many of them have been challenged as “fantasy pieces”. Pontefract, Scarborough, Carlisle and Cork all seem to have struck coins, some of which were of far worse quality than the Newark coins.

Obsidional comes from the Latin obsidionalis, meaning “of a siege”, hence the “OBS” stamped on the Newark coin.

Newark Siege Shilling 1645

Newark Siege Shilling 1645

 

Day 197

I switched on the computer after watching the World Athletics Championships. It brought back a lot of old coaching tips and I was brimming with good intentions and sports-based motivation. This survived until I went to look at my emails and found I had one from eBay. It was a reminder that I was watching something. I clicked on it and spent the next eight minutes glued to the screen, eventually adding another unusual brooch to my collection of sweethearts. Or another piece of junk that Julia will have to sort out when I die (according to her jaundiced view). Though the way she moans about my collections I might not be the first one to die. Just saying . . .

So, Computer 1 Good Intentions 0.

Cambridgeshire Regiment Sweetheart

Yorkshire Light Infantry Sweetheart

This was a pattern that continued as I stuck a couple more bids into my sniper programme and then browsed 300 more brooches. Most of them were common, over-priced, damaged, or a combination of those three. One is described by the vendor as “good condition” when it clearly isn’t, even from the (deliberately?) blurred photographs he has used. I’ve been caught that way once already in the last few weeks – it seems to be becoming a common sales technique. Not quite a lie but far from accurate.

Some are beautiful but outside my price range – these, when you read contemporary newspaper accounts were often wedding gifts of well-off grooms to their wives, and not necessarily hasty purchases before being sent overseas.

Scots Guards Sweetheart 1914-18

If I won the Lottery (which we all know I won’t, it’s just a convenient figure of speech) I would collect them. However, despite the cost and precious metals I wouldn’t necessarily value them more than the shilling and half-crown brooches that Private Smith bought for his girlfriend or his Mum before going overseas.

Apart from every story being unique, it’s a reminder that although rich people leave better stuff behind, and more written sources, theirs isn’t the real story of history.

Sweetheart Brooch – 10th Royal Hussars

Day 107

This is a picture of a coin that were are often asked about. It’s a single metal £2 coin. They were produced between 1986-96 and although they were supposedly for circulation you rarely saw one and they didn’t really catch on. They were replaced by the bimetallic type, originally planned for 1997, but not actually released until 1998.

We often get phone calls from people, who think they have a rarity because they have never seen one of the older sort. This is easily explained by the fact that the old type is at least 26 years old and even then you would need a good memory fro a coin you rarely saw.

However, I cannot explain the fixation some people have for the “solid gold” version. They ring up, they tell us they have the solid gold version, they won’t accept that it is extremely unlikely and they invariably demand that we tell them where to go to get it confirmed. The truth is that there were very few of the gold proof versions made. They were expensive and it’s unlikely that anyone ever took them out of their box, threw the certificate away and spent it as a £2 coin.

There were millions of them minted. Mintage figures for the 1995 Dove of Peace coin is 4,391,248. Mintage for the gold version is 1,000. So, even if all things were equal, the odds are 4,391 to 1 against it being a gold coin. If you allow for the fact that it is extremely unlikely that any were taken out of their packaging (let’s say this happened to 10 of them – bearing in mind they cost about £1.000 and people are going to be careful with them) the chances are 439,125 to 1 against it being a gold coin.

If I were to get one call a day about this, the chances are that I will die of old age several times over before someone rings with a loose gold coin.

However, this doesn’t stop people ringing, convinced that I’m an idiot because I don’t believe their brass coin is gold.

The coin in the picture is gold. It is, as you can see, in a plastic capsule inside a box, with a certificate. And, no, I don’t know why a coin with a mintage of 1,000 needs a numbered certificate with a number over 2,000, but I’ve seen it before

Gold £2 Coin 1995 End of WW2 Obverse

Gold £2 Coin 1995 End of WW2 Obverse

Gold £2 Coin 1995 End of WW2 Reverse

Gold £2 Coin 1995 End of WW2 Reverse

Day 97

I’m sixty-three years old and I just did something I’ve never done before.

New things are quite common when you are young, but I honestly thought that apart from a colonoscopy I had no novel experiences left in life. I suppose there’s still bigamy and necromancy but, to be honest, I prefer a warm drink and a spot of TV.

So, you ask, what did I do? I “checked all” on my ASDA shopping and pressed the “order” button. It took about ninety seconds to do the shopping. It’s not something I normally do because it’s supposedly bad for the diversity of your diet. However, it will be three weeks since our last  ASDA order so it’s not a real duplication. Ninety seconds to do a week’s shopping, and that included selecting the time slot. I’m impressed. Of course, by the time I’ve been informed that much of it is out of stock, I suppose it will take a bit longer.

I’ve just had another poem accepted. It sounds like the magic has worn off a little when I put it like that. I sent ten off, so I also had nine rejected, but it doesn’t sound quite so impressive put like that.

On the other hand, it’s a tanka, so it’s only five lines. I suppose a proper poet would only consider it a verse. Of course, a proper poet would say “stanza”. I’m not sure when this happened, they were definitely “verses” when I was at school.

Medal for the closing of the Central Ordnance Depot 1982 – it refers to the explosion in 1918 which killed 134 people. At the time it was suggested that the factory staff should be awarded a collective VC because of the speed they returned to full production.

Finally, in a day of novelty and adventure, I’ve been asked if I can do another talk at the Numismatic Society. There are two ways that you can take this. My first thought was relief, as it shows my last one, on the Peace Medals of 1919, wasn’t too bad. My second reaction was, obviously, panic. Fortunately it’s planned for the early part of 2023 so I have  a year to prepare. As you may recall from the previous one, that’s eleven and a half months to think and two weeks to panic.

My subject is “A Hundred Years of Medallions” and will be about my attempt to form a collection of medallions – one for each year from 1900 to 2000. It’s actually 101 years, but as nobody agrees when the century starts and ends I thought I’d avoid the argument and just add an extra medallion.

Magistrates’ Court Medallion – two new courts were opened in 1996 – Nottingham and Mansfield

There’s an obvious flaw in my plan. After three years of thinking about it, I’ve only just started collecting the medallions seriously. So far I have secured 44, leaving me with 57 to go. I’ll have more by the time the talk comes round, so there will be plenty to talk about. All I need is the slides and photos.

Talking of which, I can’t remember where I put the stick with the last presentation on it, so at the moment I can’t even remember how many slides I’m going to need.

The header picture is a bronze medal designed by Paul Vincze for the 400th Anniversary of Shakespeare’s Birth. The others have titles attached.

Royal Wedding Medallion 1947 – a time of national shame at the poor quality medallions that were being produced.

Day 42

I just looked at the title, and thought, that only leaves 323 days until the end of the year. Give it three weeks and the year will be 1/6th gone. And what have I done? Well, apart from moaning about the cold, worrying about WW3 and putting off the housework? I know they are all important things, but they aren’t real achievements are they?

I’m getting ready to put a few better bits on eBay for work and, at home, to catalogue my collection of plastic transport tokens. Here’s a question for you, what are collectors of transport tokens called?answer (in the US at least) is Vecturist). In the UK, they just call us anoraks. Even coin collectors look down on us as being peculiar. The hobby is much more developed in the US. There are also more serial killers in the US. I’m not saying the two things are linked, but you have to wonder . . .

The pictures for today are two pieces of coin jewellery. The header picture is a 1901 penny which has been cut away and made into a brooch. It’s fine work and it’s a shame the pin is missing. It isn’t much worn, which makes me think it was probably made in about 1901, maybe as a piece of mourning jewellery for Queen Victoria. It is very dark and the patina may have been artificially applied.

The other is an enamelled bronze brooch (also lacking a pin) which has had a farthing mounted in the centre. This, as the inscription shows, is definitely a piece of mourning jewellery. The maker’s mark is “W.J.D” which is W. J. Dingley, a Birmingham manufacturer of everything from high quality trophies to mass market badges.

When I found them (I was going through one of the junk boxes) I thought of adding them to my collection, as I have a few bits of coin jewellery, but decided against it, as it’s time to start cutting back, not adding to the burden of whoever has to sort out my collections.

If things had gone a different way I may, by now, have become a leading authority on mourning jewellery. Instead, I’m a shop assistant. Sic transit gloria mundi, as they say.

Penny Brooch – front view

Penny Brooch showing rear view with Britannia and the date 1901

Penny Brooch showing rear view with Britannia and the date 1901

With modern penny for size comparison

With modern penny for size comparison

Day 18

Day 18 passed in much the same way as Day 17, but without the element of anticipation that you get after a Sunday off. In that respect it was very much like Day 11. I expect that Day 25 will be similar.

It was also like Day 17, in that I have a few ideas for writing, but didn’t do much about it. The trouble with giving days numbers is that the passing of time is much more noticeable and there is nowhere to hide. “Next Wednesday” is quite a friendly place, in a soft and woolly future. “Day 26” is much sharper, and leaves you in no doubt that you have seven days to do something, and that when it arrives the deadlines are only five days away (the days leading up to Day 31 are going to be interesting.)

I bought 500 items on eBay last night. They were very cheap, just pennies each and will, eventually, help finance my collecting habit. Julia will be delighted when she finds out and will no doubt be keen to congratulate me on my financial acumen and the purchase of more clutter. That’s why I’m letting her know via the blog. I don’t want to be in the room when she finds out. I could, I suppose, conceal this from her, but she will eventually notice a big box of plastic tokens no matter what I do.

When I have  a few minutes I will prepare more posts on collectables to leaven the musings on mortality, boredom and the passage of time. However, despite all my attempts to put it off, I need to go for a blood test now. It’s not procrastination if you put it off because you have to do something important.

I had some haiku turned down yesterday, which means I am currently running with one acceptance and one rejection so far this year. The editor sent a longish email and included a useful link to help me do better. The problem I find with haiku is that although they are small poems they come with a lot of conventions attached (some call them rules, though this isn’t quite accurate) and I never quite manage to remember them all at the same time. It’s a bit like that hypothetical over-filled bookshelf – you put a book on one end and one falls off the other. That’s my brain . . .

The picture is a small Royal Artillery sweetheart brooch carved from mother of pearl. They are generally from the First World War usually, I’m told,  made in Palestine. I include it as it’s a new picture and illustrates my inability to stop collecting things.